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How To Format Your Ebook And Paperback Like A Pro – Ask ALLi Beginners’ Self-Publishing Salon With Iain Rob Wright And Jyotsna Ramachandran

How to Format Your Ebook and Paperback Like a Pro – Ask ALLi Beginners’ Self-Publishing Salon with Iain Rob Wright and Jyotsna Ramachandran

askalli-podcast-squares2Welcome to AskALLi, the self-publishing advice podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week it's our monthly beginners' self-publishing salon with advice, tips, and tools for indie authors just starting out.

This month, we introduce our new hosts. Jyotsna Ramachandran is the founder of Happy Self Publishing and author of the international bestseller Job Escape Plan.

Iain Rob Wright has written over a dozen novels. He’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association and has also written a free self-publishing course for authors.

This Month's Beginners' Self-Publishing Salon Episode

No matter how you like to consume your content, we have you covered. You can listen to the podcast recording, watch the YouTube broadcast, or read the full transcript of this Salon episode below.

Topics discussed this week include:

  • Introducing Iain and Jyotsna
  • Seven years ago, Iain decided to be a writer because he wasn't happy with his sales job, discovered self-publishing and never looked back.
  • Jyotsna quit her full-time job six years ago, tried out different businesses. Discovered Amazon self-publishing and began making money on royalties. Then she found fulfillment in writing her own books
  • Visibility is more difficult now than it was six years ago. The space is more crowded.
  • Self-publishing is like any other business. Build it from the ground up.
  • Don't depend on Amazon for visibility. Get onto podcasts, find places to speak about your book.
  • Self-publishing is a great way to work from home.
  • Tools for formatting books. Microsoft Word? Vellum? Depends on your needs and budget.
  • Give proper instructions to freelance formatters.
  • CreateSpace vs. KDP

Listen to the Beginners' Self-Publishing Salon Podcast

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Watch the Beginners' Self-Publishing Salon Video

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Read the Advanced Self-Publishing Salon Transcript

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Hello, guys. Welcome to AskALLI Self-Publishing Advice podcast. I'm your new host, Jyotsna Ramachandran. I'm the founder of Happy Self-Publishing. Please welcome my cohost, Iain Rob Wright. Hi, Iain. How are you doing today?

Iain Rob Wright: Hi. I'm good, thanks. I'm a horror author, primarily. I've been a full-time self-published author for the last six years, and I also run the free self-publishing website advice course, which is A-Z of Self-Publishing.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: That's awesome. You are from the UK, right? I can make out from your British accent.

Iain Rob Wright: I am. Your English is a lot better than my … is it Punjab that India speaks primarily, or …?

Jyotsna Ramachandran: In India, our common language is Hindi.

Iain Rob Wright: Hindi.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah, but we learn English at school, so that's our first language.

Iain Rob Wright: Yeah. Well, we're supposed to learn French and German at English schools, but very few of us speak it. We're not very good at languages in this country.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: We both are going to be cohosting this beginner's salon from now on, right? Could you tell us a little bit about your background? When did you start this whole thing about self-publishing and becoming and author?

Iain Rob Wright: Well, like most authors, I've always wanted to be a writer ever since I was a young boy, and I've always been an avid reader, so it's always kind of been my dream job. When I published my first book via KDP, which was The Final Winter, in May 2011, I was actually working as a telephone salesman. I'd been doing that for several years, and I was really unhappy with sort of where I was in life. It wasn't what I wanted to do. I didn't finish university. I wasn't doing a high level job. I always felt like I was intelligent enough to do something better, and my dream was to publish a book and be a writer, like Stephen King, who is my idol.

I'd written this book as a hobby in my spare time. It had taken me a year, writing it in the evenings. I wanted to get it published so that I could move away from being a phone salesman. While I was Googling, I must have come across sort of Amazon's KDP, and it was a big thing at the moment, and they had just started the 70% royalty, and there was a bit of excitement about it. I threw my book up there, hoping to make some money from it. Within six months, that one book was making me more money every month than my previous job was, so I didn't ever go back to selling phones.

That was the last time I ever had to work for anybody else, and every book I've written since has kind of kept me at a level where this is what I do for a job now. It'll be seven years in May, I think, that I've been doing this, so a long time now. I keep waiting for the penny to drop and something to happen, and I'll have to go back and get a job, but it hasn't happened yet, so I'm just enjoying it sort of while it's happening.

What about yourself? Have you had a similar story?

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. A little similar, but I never considered myself to be an author. First of all, I must tell you, Iain, your story's so inspiring. I'm sure for all the newbie authors who are watching us today, it's going to be really encouraging, because people think that this is some … kind of a side business, but if you work hard … And, you've written 19 to 20 books, right?

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: It can become a full-time thing. Something similar happened to me as well, Iain. I actually quit my full-time job six years ago, and I was trying out different businesses, because I had realized we have so much freedom when we are on our own, so I was trying out different things. All my businesses were growing, but the biggest change in my life happened when my daughter was born four years ago. I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I didn't want to keep running around and attend client meetings, so I started searching the internet. I started Googling, “How to make money online,” and stuff like that. Very often, I was hearing this thing about Kindle publishing, Amazon self-publishing, and these were the terms that were coming up again and again, and I started finding out, “What is all this about?”

Back then, I never considered myself to be an author, so I tried to take a different route where I started hiring people to write books on topics which I thought were profitable. I would just find some good trending topics, find a writer, and quickly put together a book. Today, when I look back at those days four years ago, I'm really not proud of some of the books I published, but the good thing was, at that time, there were not too many books on Amazon. Even if the book was of average quality, it was still selling.

That was very motivating for me, because within six months, I published 15 books. The royalties that I was earning, I was making some $4000 to $5000, and for the kind of lifestyle we have in India, the cost of living is much less here, so it was making me more money than my other businesses. So I shut all that down, and I was focusing on putting out more and more books on Amazon, and I was removing the books that were not great. I was trying to improve the quality.

That's when my friend started asking me, “Hey, you have a kid and you're doing something from home. I know you're making money, so what is it all about?” That inspired me to write my book, Job Escape Plan, and that's when I got the confidence that, “Hey. I have the ability to take my story and write it into a book.”

That was the last time I published a book written by somebody else, and since Job Escape Plan, I started helping other authors, because I realized how fulfilling it is to write your own book, get great reviews about it, and people write to me saying, “Hey, I left my job after reading this book.” I never expected that. I just thought people would get some inspiration, but people are actually taking action. That was a great experience.

I thought that people have … There are so many people who have much more inspiring and important messages to share with the world. Luckily, I had this team with me, a team of designers, editors, formatters, everyone you need to publish a book. I just took that team, converted that into Happy Self-Publishing, and now we have served 300 authors from 25 different countries to publish their books. That's my journey, in short.

Iain Rob Wright:Okay. It's kind of the opposite to sort of my own, in that I came at it from wanting to be an author, and you came at it where you'd been writing for market and trying to make money from the business model. It sort of shows that there's various paths to success in self-publishing.

I also found something, similar to yourself. Six years ago, it was much easier to compete, in that the quality of most self-published books was very poor. I know that my first couple of novels, the quality of those, compared to what I write now, it was much lower. Potentially, if I was starting today, I would have a much harder time sort of finding that success than I did six years ago. I think I was lucky that I got into it at a time when the success was there for anybody to grab, and by the time things got harder, I had already established myself.

It's definitely tougher for new authors to get success now. I don't necessarily think they'll get the same quick success that we did, and I think it's a much longer road now. You have to have a business plan. You have to be persistent and keep at it, and just focus on not necessarily getting success overnight, but just improving each month, maybe starting with $5 in month one, and making $10 in month two, and just slowly progress forwards until you do get to that place where you want to be.

It's a shame that it's not as easy nowadays as it was for us six years ago, but it's still certainly doable. There are people sort of making successes of themselves. I think that the key thing now is to know the right way of doing things so that you don't waste too much time.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. I'm sure a lot of things have changed in the last six years. What would be your advice to people who are just starting out, and what are the things that you have noticed has changed for you and your books in the last couple of years?

Iain Rob Wright: Visibility doesn't happen on its own anymore. I think, six years ago, when I published my first book, straight away, it was making a couple of thousand dollars a month on its own, and I wasn't doing anything. I'd just published it and put it up there, and it started to get reviews, and Amazon were pushing it. There was about 400,000 ebooks on KDP then, and there's several million now, including from large traditional publishers, like Stephen King in my genre. It's very, very hard now to get your book seen, and that's where a lot of the work for an author comes in now. It's having to proactively do things so that readers find your book.

I think, a few years ago, you could just write a book and publish it, and the sales would kind of take care of themselves. I think, in the last few years, because it's got a lot tougher, you've got things like Facebook advertising now, and things like that. Growing a mailing list so that when you have a new book out, you can email readers that you know enjoy your work. All these things are very important to make a living from writing now. You can't really avoid doing them.

I think it's very important now that, if you want to be a self-publisher, you don't think that it's just an overnight dream of you publish a book, and you become famous. It's so much now like any other business. If you want to set up a bakery, you can't just make bread and then make a load of money. You have to think, “Right. I want my bakery to be the best, so I'm going to start small, and I'm going to find customers. I'm going to advertise. I'm going to do this. I'm going to make sure my bread is the best.”

You have to grow your business in self-publishing from the ground up, and it's not going to start as an overnight success, it's going to start as a small business that nobody knows about, that readers don't know about, and it's your job to make readers find your work. I think that's the most important part of … If you want to be a success as an author, that's the most important part. It's to realize that you've got to now find readers and bring them to you, rather than just hope they find you.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Absolutely. Yeah. I find the same kinds of trends with nonfiction books as well, Iain. Before, as you rightly mentioned, you just put out a couple of books and you forget about it for six months, and money would still come into your bank account. Things have changed now, and others have to look at their book as a business, and themselves as a business owner, rather than just an author who writes whenever he has nothing else to do. I think that kind of seriousness is really important these days.

A couple of things that I tell my clients all the time is, as you rightly said, “We can't just wait for people to find you on Amazon.” We tell our guys, “Go out, go to different podcasts. Get yourself booked at stages to speak. Get people from outside Amazon to come to your book. Don't just wait for some …” you know, just improving the key word or just improving the category, because everybody is doing that. You need to be one step ahead of the others, so that's really important.

Another trend that we see is, before, royalties were good enough, but now, I feel royalties are just the tip of the iceberg, and there's so much more which can be used, which can be really capitalized, and which a lot of authors are not aware. For example, having some kind … Especially for nonfiction, a book can be easily converted to an online course if it's a how-to kind of a book. They must use the book as the first step to sell something bigger. If they are able to think ahead of time and put that together, then royalties can keep coming, but you can have a coaching or a consulting kind of a business, which comes through the book.

Yeah. A lot of things have changed, but I don't think the new authors should feel disheartened that competition is too high, because they can try out a lot of new things.

Iain Rob Wright: It is a business now, but it's still one of the best businesses in the world. I get to work at home. I get to have whatever holiday I want. I get to spend time with my children. And, I get to do what I love for most of the time. Most of my day is spent writing books, which is what I want to do. It is a business, and it does have some parts of it which are stressful, but it's still one of the best businesses in the world to do, because you don't have to answer to anyone by yourself. I can't say to a new author that it's an easy road to take, but it's definitely a fulfilling one, and it's worthwhile. It can change your life in wonderful ways if you manage to find the success.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Absolutely. I love this online nature of this entire business, because people like you and me who have a family, who want to be at home or be at any other part of the world, it's such a blessing, and I think we just have to be thankful for that.

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah. Absolutely.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Let's move onto the core topic for today's episode, Iain. The previous host did an amazing job of touching upon the writing, and cover design and editing. Once the book is editing, the very next step is the production, right?

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: What are some of the trends that you see? What are some of the tools that you would advise indies to use for the production, which is formatting the ebook first?

Iain Rob Wright:There's several methods. Over the last six years, the way I format my ebooks and paperbacks, it's definitely evolved. It really … It depends if you've got money, you want to invest upfront, or if you want to do things that are as low cost as possible. Generally, if you spend a bit of money, you'll make life easier for yourself, but if it's important that you save money, there are easy and free options.

What I think a lot of authors are still resorting to is using Word. My first sort of seven or eight books were formatted using Word, and uploaded directly as a Word document. That isn't going to cost most people anything, because they already have Word. But, the downside of Word is that it's not designed primarily to write sort of ebooks and things for publishing online. It's not streamlined or efficient in any way that's going to help an author, which means there's a lot of additional work required to get the ebook how you want it to be. There's a learning curve with using Word that most authors will have to go on Google and look at guides for how to format table of contents and things like that. That's not going to cost any money, but it does require more work. That's how most authors start out, I believe, because they don't want to risk any money, or they don't have the money.

But, as you do start to bring in profits from your writing, one of the best ways you can invest it is on sort of ebook formatting programs. The one I use is on the Apple Mac, and it's called Vellum. That's as simple as dragging over your Word document and letting it do its magic, and it pretty much does everything for you, with only a few manual tweaks that you need to make. Recently, they added a paperback function as well, which allows you to also output a PDF file ready for sort of CreateSpace or Lightning Source, or whatever print on demand service you're using.

My recommendation is Vellum, but it does cost £250. If you're not ready to spend that yet, then you can use Word or sort of Open Office and things like that. It depends sort of what you want to do. Do you want the time saving that you'll get by using Vellum, or do you want to save the money by doing things with Word or a free alternative? There's several options, and there's no right or wrong. HTML ebooks are quite a simple format, so once you understand the basics, it's pretty easy to use any program and get the design that you want.

What do you use yourself, Jyotsna?

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. What I do is I give it to my team members because they are pros at this.

Iain Rob Wright:That's the easiest. That's the most expensive option for most people, is to pay somebody else to do it, but, again, that's even easier.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. Especially for authors who are not sure if they're going to write multiple books so that they can invest in a good software. They could just hire somebody. There are so many good ones, even on websites like Fiver and Upwork. You could see their previous work, and that would be a fraction of the amount that you pay for a software. But, if you are a pro like Iain, then you could obviously buy a software and do it yourself if you have the time.

What people don't understand is … Most first time authors think that if they have written a book in a Word format, it's just about converting it to ebook. It's not just about that. There's a lot of small, little design elements that get involved in formatting your book well. This is really important, because I feel that most customers on Amazon will click on the “Look Inside” feature. They would look at the first few pages.

Most people, you can easily figure out if it has been done by the author themselves, because you will not be knowing the right kind of fonts to use, the right kind of header, footer for your CreateSpace book. Even small, little things like, “How do you use a divider between your chapter name and the actual body?” It's nice to use things like a drop cap. It's nice to use a pull quote. These are little things which indies will probably miss out if they are doing it for the first time and doing it themselves.

But, as you rightly said, if you don't have a huge budget, then spend some time in learning it well and doing it yourself. But, if you have the resources, then it's really worth it to invest either in a person to do it or in a good software that can really take the standard of the book to the next level. Because your content could be amazing, but if it looks bad, then it's really going to hurt your sales, right?

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah. I've used Fiver in the past for other things, and, generally, you do get pretty good projects from whoever's doing it for you. I've had sort of artwork done by people in the Philippines. That's been really great. Even some of their marketing services on there are quite good. Yeah. I think Fiver's a good place to look, and there's other places online.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Sure.

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah. If you are going to use Word, it's imperative you learn how to use it properly, because the thing with Word is it's more complicated than it needs to be, and you need to learn how to do very, very simple with Word, and you remove a lot of formats, which you might use, usually, for a business letter or things. You never want to press tab, and you want to use the style sheets and things, which most people won't understand how to do. It's important that, if you are going to do the route of Word and not spend any money, that you at least spend the time learning how to use it correctly.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Exactly. Yeah.

Another thing I want to touch upon is, a lot of times, when people use freelancers, the freelancer must have got great feedback, a lot of great reviews, but when you hire them, they end up doing a horrible job, and you wonder, “Why is that?” I feel that, as authors, it's our job to give proper instructions to people, because they may not know everything about your books. I think authors should probably do a little bit of research, and see how the other bestselling books int hat particular genre are formatted, and probably take some screenshots. Do a little bit of research, and send that to the formatter so that they get an idea about what you expect.

You can actually help them to improve their standards. They may have a fixed template or a fixed format of doing things, but if you are specific that, “These are the kind of formats I like. This is the kind of style I want. This is the kind of images I want,” then it can help them get a better understanding of what you want, so you will get better results if you give better instructions.

Iain Rob Wright: I think, certainly if you're publishing nonfiction, and you've got things like, maybe, charts or a lot of lists and things, those are very difficult to do. If you are writing nonfiction in a sort of a textbook type of thing, then that's when I would probably advise you get some professional help. I know how to format fiction books very easily, but that's because they don't have a lot of the advanced formatting that a textbook or a nonfiction book might require. There might be images and things that you need to embed in a nonfiction book. Certainly, for nonfiction, it's probably even more important that you seek out a professional.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Absolutely. Especially when there are too many images and things like that. There are a lot of technical stuff which is just beyond the understanding of an, often, author, like the file size. A client of mine, he had like 200 images for his cookbook. Before he came to us, he actually did it himself, and Amazon said that the file size is too much, and he couldn't run his 99 cent promotion, because Amazon didn't let him price it at that price point. The promotion he planned got messed up because he didn't know that he had to reduce the size of the images without spoiling the quality of the image.

As you said, if there are too many images and charts and graphs, then you cannot compromise on the quality, but you have to somehow reduce the image. People do waste a lot of time doing that. If your book is simple, you can try and do it yourself, but if it has all these complex elements, it's better to go with a professional. That's what I think.

Iain Rob Wright: Yeah.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: What do you think about the difference between ebook and paperback production, Iain?

Iain Rob Wright:For a long time, paperbacks used to be a massive time drain for me. I started out by formatting a Word document and converting that into a PDF, and using that for CreateSpace, but that was always … It was never ideal, and it took a lot of work. The headers and footers were difficult to get correct because you had to create sections so that you wouldn't have headers and footers on sort of front and back matter. It was a lot to learn, and it was always a very time consuming task.

After that, I moved onto Adobe InDesign, which is pretty much as professional as you can get with creating a paperback. That's what the traditional New York and London publishers would use themselves. They would use Adobe InDesign with a professional that knows how to use that. For a long time, I started using that. But, again, that could be quite time consuming. There's a lot of tweaks that you have to make on Adobe InDesign, and all sorts of things that you need to do that aren't automatic.

Nowadays, again, using Vellum, they've recently added a paperback feature to it that automatically does many of the things that you will need to do, and it will just spit out a PDF file for you that's perfect and that's already done. It does that alongside your ebook file also. I don't have to do any separate work to create a paperback anymore. I just put everything into Vellum, and it will give me every file that I need. Again, that's something I've paid for, and it's a professional. That time saving is vital to me, so I was happy to spend the £250 to get all that time back, because I'm publishing three, four, maybe five books a year. That pays for itself in the amount of time I save.

Again, if you're trying to save money, then, again, look at maybe Fiver. If you are going to do it yourself, paperback's even harder if you're going to use Word. It really can go wrong. Definitely, it's … If you want an ebook and paperback file, then maybe there's even more reason to get a professional to help you with it. It's going to be a lot of work, and a lot of things you need to learn if you want to do it yourself. Again, if you're willing to learn and spend that time learning, you can do it yourself as well.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: True. Yeah. What we do is, when clients need both ebook and paperback, we first start off with the paperback formatting. Actually, that's a lot easier. We do that. We first send the first chapter, so that it's a lot easier to make revisions in the styling in one chapter, rather than just sending the entire file, and then revising the whole book. I would suggest that to authors, because instead of wasting time, spending weeks on formatting, it can actually just take a couple of days, or a few hours if you're a pro at it. Get the first chapter done, be happy with the format, and then get the complete paperback done. Then, once we are finalizing the paperback version, then we convert it for the ebook.

For ebook, do you prefer an EPUB or a MOBI file?

Iain Rob Wright: Well, Vellum, that I use, gives me both. It gives me a MOBI file and an EPUB, so I'll just upload whichever platform I'm using.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. For Amazon, I think EPUB is better, right? Or, do you have another …

Iain Rob Wright:Well, with Amazon-

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Oh, sorry. MOBI is better, is what I think.

Iain Rob Wright: I upload a MOBI file. Prior to that, I would always upload a Word document saved as an HTML file, and I would upload those to the various platforms. I've never really used EPUB, to be honest. Vellum creates one for me, and if I do publish on Apple or Barnes & Noble, then I will use an EPUB file.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Exactly. I think I have tried Smashwords and Draft2Digital. Those guys specifically ask for an EPUB file, so I think only during those … For that, you need the EPUB, right?

Iain Rob Wright: Yeah. You do. But they will also, I believe, let you upload a Word document as well. If you don't have a way of creating an end ebook file, then you can upload your Word document, although the results won't be as good.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. I think there's just a minor difference between a Word file and a MOBI and an EPUB.Iain Rob Wright:Yeah. I think a MOBI is basically an EPUB file, but Amazon have put their own sort of DRM into it to make it exclusive to their platform. But, I think, in nature, they're both pretty similar. They're just HTML formats, really.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Exactly.

When it comes to choosing the dimensions, the size of the book, do you have any recommendations for fiction books?

Iain Rob Wright:Well, for fiction books, I want to keep the printing costs as low as possible, so I go for 5 x 8 as my dimensions, which tends to be … It's a little bit bigger than a mass market paperback, but only slightly. It's small, sort of easily sort of handheld format that most people are going to want to have for a fiction book that they're going to spend hours with.

Obviously, if you're doing nonfiction, then a larger format might be better because you've got images and things like that. For fiction, I definitely try to keep the printing costs down, because that allows me to either charge less for the book or [inaudible 00:27:13]. 5 x 8 is what I've used most recently. I have also done 6 x 9 in the past, which seems a bit more like a limited edition book. It's a bit more of a book that someone might want on their shelf because it looks nicer.

There are options, and they're not dissimilar in printing costs. 5 x 8, I think, is the most similar I can get to a mass market paperback, which is what I want to emulate. I want to make the book cheap and easy to read.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Right. What we recommend is, for the nonfiction category, some authors write very short books which are less than 20,000 words. When they make it 6 x 9, it looks wafer thin. It really looks bad when you give it to a client. We tell them to go with a 5 x 8 so that the page count would increase. It's actually the opposite of what you want, right? You want your cost to reduce. These guys don't mind increasing the cost, as long as it looks like a book, if the book is too short. But, if the book is substantial, maybe 30,000 to 40,000 words or above, then we go for 6 x 9. That looks nicer. It's actually a personal choice.

When it comes to paperback, is CreateSpace your number one choice, or have you tried paperback using KDP?

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah. I've slowly started shifting everything over to KDP print just because it's simpler for me. I know that there's a couple of downsides to KD Print at the moment, so they don't use the expanded distribution to libraries and retail outlets. But, to be honest, making sales on those routes on CreateSpace is very rare anyway. Most of your sales are going to come from Amazon's website, so you're not going to lose a great deal of revenue by losing those functions. And, Amazon KDP have said that they will eventually add those expanded distribution sources anyway. Eventually, they're going to be in line with each other, in that they're identical, but KDP Print, because it's integrated with the KDP dashboard, and because it takes all of the metadata from your ebook and shifts it over, it's just a lot easier.

For new authors, I would say, “Use KD Print,” because it seems quite obvious to me that Amazon are eventually going to try and migrate everything towards that anyway. I think CreateSpace has been great, and certainly for the last six years, I think that's probably been the number one choice for most self published authors. It's been quite easy to use. Amazon have done well at promoting it and making sure authors know about it, but I think the future is going to be KDP Print, because there'd be no reason for Amazon to launch it if they weren't eventually thinking of replacing CreateSpace, because why would they have both platforms? Rather than having to change at a later date when Amazon suddenly announce they're going to close CreateSpace in 12 months' time, and everyone needs to move, just get into the habit of using KDP Print now, I think.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Right. I think distribution is a huge topic by itself, and we can totally focus on that maybe on one of our future episodes.

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: I actually remembered something which I wanted to ask you before, but I just forgot. Before you actually format the book, I see, a lot of authors, they write the whole main content of the book, but they forget about the front matter and the back matter, and it actually comes like an afterthought just before they go to a formatter, and they just hurry and put something together. Things like your dedication page or acknowledgement case. In your case, it may be a prologue or an epilogue. What's your thoughts on that? When should the authors be ready with all of this before [inaudible 00:30:51]?

Iain Rob Wright: I think, especially nowadays, what authors need to realize is that when you've got somebody reading your book, you've got a customer that you've already sold to, so you should try to sell to them again. What I have at the beginning and end of my books is an advertisement for my mailing list, where they can get five of my books for free. I have that before the story and after the story, because you're never going to get a more receptive customer than one that's already purchased one of your products and is using it right now.

I think a really important part of front and back matter now is making sure you make the most of the customer that you've already got. Always include some sort of offer as soon as they finish the book. Hopefully, they've enjoyed it. They've got all the way to the end, and they're looking for more work from yourself, so I've linked to another book you have on sale. If it's a series, link directly to the sequel so that they can immediately purchase it. Or, if, like myself, you've got lots of books and you want to get people onto your mailing list, have your offer at the end of your book. As soon as somebody finishes one of my books, they see that they can get five more for free by giving me their email address. That works really well for me.

Then, in addition to that, you've got the more traditional things. I've got, obviously, a copyright page. I have that at the front of a paperback, but at the end of an ebook, which is how Amazon seems to prefer it nowadays. But, I also have something at the end of my book which most authors don't think to do, and that's actually a page where I thank the reader for buying my book and reading it. Then, I also let them know that if they leave a review, it would really help me.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. Unless you ask, it's so difficult to get.

Iain Rob Wright: Yeah. Absolutely. That page at the end of all of my books just saying, “Thanks so much for reading my book. I really appreciate it. Also, if you'd like to help me, a review would be really great.” I don't demand a review. I just let a reader know that that would be helpful. I think I'm quite lucky in that my books do get a lot of reviews, and I think that page that I've used for years has been instrumental to that.

There's no rules anymore. You can put whatever you want at the end of your book or at the beginning. Just think about it. Think what will be a clever thing to do. I think the people that succeed, especially now, are the people that think about things that nobody else is doing, and that's why people like Mark Dawson have made a fortune, because they were the first people to go, “You know what? Facebook ads really work well at selling books.” Because he was the first person to think of that, or one of the first, he's the guy that's reaping the biggest rewards.

I think because, early on, I had this idea of this page thanking the reader and asking for a review, I've always done really well with reviews, because I was one of the first people to think about, “You know what? You don't just need a copyright page and an acknowledgements page. I can put whatever I want there, so I'm going to think about it and make a wise decision on what I put right at the end of the book when the reader is most receptive to the message I want to give them.” Really, you can put whatever you want at the front and the back. There's no law.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Absolutely. I'll just give the example of my husband's book. He wrote this book called The Marriage Mantra, and he's a relationship coach. When he was writing the book, we didn't actually think about this, but we realized that this could be a great tool for him to promote his business. Right at the beginning, we had praises for the book. We got some early reviews from some eminent people in his industry. We got that. We were lucky enough to get a foreword from this person called Brian Tracy who has written 75 plus books. The foreword got added later.

I think what's … More than all this foreword, dedication, acknowledgement and all of that, what's most important is getting the readers on your email list, because Amazon will never give their emails. I'm glad you mentioned that. For nonfiction, we recommend people to give some kind of free bonus right in the beginning, right at the end, and also just have it here and there in between the chapters as well, if it's relevant.

It could be anything. It could be the audio version of the book. It could be a free action guide. Things like assessments really work well. Or, it could just be a free coaching call if you're a coach. Anything of value which is in line with what the book is about really helps people, because it's just a value upgrade, and people don't mind leaving their email IDs to get that extra bonus.

Iain Rob Wright:No. They don't. I think, with nonfiction, if you're trying to lead into a course, a paid course, the fact that … the sole purpose of the book is to try and get people onto that course, so it does kind of need to be focused on that end goal of eventually leading the reader onto something else. I mean, with fiction, it's very much about getting the reader to buy another one of your books.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: The next book.

Iain Rob Wright: Yeah. Things like a mailing list are instrumental because, like you said, Amazon won't ever give you ownership over their customers, so you need to create your own customer base. If Amazon decides to stop publishing books tomorrow, you can take your big mailing list and go elsewhere with it. It gives you stability and control over the future that you just won't have without it. Amazon could make any sort of decision they want to make, and it could ruin you. If you've got 20,000 people on your mailing list, then you've always got that little comfort of, you can tell your customers you're in trouble because Amazon have made a decision, so that you're going to move all your books to Apple, and hopefully some of them will go with you. It just gives you a bit of flexibility and ability to navigate.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. Absolutely. Yeah. Amazon is great, and all these other platforms like NOOK, Kobo, everything has its own advantages, but, at the end of the day, it's somebody else's marketplace, so you need to have your assets protected.

Iain Rob Wright:Absolutely. Again, that's being a business. You have to think of the business side of things. There's lots of different little, tiny opportunities that are easy to ignore. Things like putting an offer at the end of your book to try and get people to take an online course. If you're not thinking in business mode, you won't do that, and you'll miss that little opportunity. It's only a small thing, but there are hundreds of these little, small opportunities that you need to keep your eyes open for.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: I've seen some very interesting things done by fiction authors. One of them had written like, “Click this button to download the deleted chapters from the book.” Another said, “Read the backstory of the characters by clicking this link.” You could do a lot of innovative things to get people on board. I think all this has to be decided before you go into the production phase. I'm glad that we were able to touch upon that.

Any closing thoughts, Iain, for our listeners?

Iain Rob Wright: I just … It's … There's so much you can tell a new author, but it's hard not to overwhelm them. I think it's all about just focusing on one thing after another, and not allowing your mind to become too overwhelmed with so many things.

If you decide that you only want to publish one book, then that's going to influence your decisions on whether you purchase software like Vellum, or whether you just pay somebody else to do it. I think you need to know what your goals are, and then run your business accordingly. If you want to publish 10 books a year, then it's going to make more sense purchasing your own software and doing it yourself, but if you're only going to publish one book which is your memoir, then it makes a lot more sense to just have somebody do that for you, rather than spend weeks learning how to do it yourself.

You need to run your business like a business, but all businesses are different, so you just … You need to know what your goals are, and then make every decision in line with that. If your goal is to get people to sign up to your online course, and you're going to write a book to help with that, then make sure that book is focused on that end goal. Everything needs to work together in your business.Everything I do online is designed to get people onto my mailing list, because that's where I can sell to them. My website is designed to get people onto my mailing list. My books have offers to get people onto my mailing list. On Facebook, I advertise to get people onto my mailing list. My entire business is focused in the same direction, and it's all working together.

But, just starting out, you only need to do one step at a time. It's kind of … You need to do all these things, but then you also need to stay mentally sane by not trying to do it all at once. Just start with step one, and then step two and step three.

In regards to formatting, you just need to ask yourself what's the most important, your time or your money, because it's kind of … there's two different avenues of whether you pay for it to be done by somebody else, or whether you want to invest the time to learn how to do it yourself. I think both of those options are perfectly viable. You just need to decide which is best for you.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Absolutely. I'm happy you touched upon that, because a lot of us, as authors and entrepreneurs, we try to compare our success with somebody else's. I think, in order to remain happy, we should not compare our first step with somebody else's hundredth step.

Yeah. Each one's goals are different, and the method they're going to choose is different.

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah. Just concentrate on improving on your own sales. Don't try and beat another author, try and beat what you did last month or last year. You can only really do that. It is a stressful job, and it can really get you down, and it can become obsessive as well. I asked sort of an author friend who was working 12 hours a day because he knew every book he wrote would make him more money, it would add to the pile of money, and he became absolutely obsessed with making money. His life started to suffer. His wife started to become unhappy. He started to become emotionally unwell. I think it took him to the brink of a bad place because he became so obsessed.

You do need to step back sometimes and think, “You know what?” I don't want to spend hours formatting a book, because it's going to really stress me out.” If that's the type of person you are, then that's just … I know it might be a lot of money to you, but just spend it, because sometimes the emotional wellbeing of having somebody else take care of that stress and that problem is worth the money as well.

It's very difficult to not do too many things at once. As self-publishers, we've kind of been taught to try and do everything, and I think that's slowly changing to now we're professionals, and that we should be getting people to design our websites, we should be getting people to format our ebooks, because it's just too overwhelming not to do that.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. We could be all self-published authors. All of our books may not hit New York Times Best Seller, but I think all of us have the ability to at least make the book look like a New York Times Best Seller, whether it hits it or not.

Iain Rob Wright:Yeah. Absolutely. I think one of the goals of the self-publisher is to make their book indistinguishable from the bestseller at the airport. That's doable, and that's why traditional publishing have struggled, because a self-publisher can make themselves indistinguishable from James Patterson or JK Rowling.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: Yeah. Indies rock, right?

Iain Rob Wright: Yeah.

Jyotsna Ramachandran: I hope you guys found this show useful. We'll see you next month with yet another episode. Thank you for watching.

Iain Rob Wright:Thanks. Bye.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. Thank you for taking the time to share all of this information with us, Jyotsna and Iain! You’ve given me quite a bit to think about regarding the formatting process, plus you’ve alleviated some of my ignorance on the subject. (wry grin) I really appreciate it!

  2. I can’t understand why Vellum isn’t being developed for PC. I asked them and they said there are no plans. They should create an online version of the program that works via a browser extension. Have not tried Sigil.

  3. Thanks for a great presentation! I hear you talk a lot about Vellum, which I agree is a great program–for Mac users. I am in hopes that when Scrivener 3 is available for PC users it might be a good alternative, but for now, I’m using the open source Sigil program to convert my PC Word files into an ePub file that Amazon will accept.

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